Climate in the Levant during Crusader times

How as the climate in the Levant during Crusader times? The many chronicals and travel reports shed some light on this.

"As the (Crusader, TN) armies at Antioch (during their first attack on the city between 20 October 1097 and 3 June 1098, TN) soon came to realise, this terrain encompassed wide variations in precipitation and temperature. Around Antioch itself the average annual precipitation is about 46 inches (1,181 mm), most of which falls during the winter, leaving long, hot, dry summers, with little in the way of spring or autumn. Although the average annual temperature is between 15 and 20ºC, this conceals much greater extremes. In the mountains the midwinter temperature can fall below freezing, while in the plain summer levels can rise above 30ºC.

Once the crusaders left Antioch and, urged on by popular pressure, began to push south towards Jerusalem, they found that precipitation decreased as the temperature climbed: in what became the kingdom of Jerusalem, average temperatures of around 20–22ºC could be transformed by the desert winds of early summer into highs of 40ºC or more. 

In 1185, John Phocas, a Greek pilgrim from Crete, visited the Holy Land, where he had a particular interest in Orthodox monasteries and their sites. Among these was the monastery of Choziba, near the Jericho road. ‘Indeed the recesses of the caves are the monks’ cells. And the Church itself and the cemetery are set in the chasm of the rock, and everything is so blasted by the burning sun that one can see the rock emitting tongues of flame like pyramids. In fact the water which the monks drink is of the kind which comes from a pool, when the midsummer sun hangs above the pools and heats it to boiling-point with its fiery rays.’

Rainfall in Palestine, again almost exclusively in the winter, is less than half that in Antioch, diminishing to almost nothing in the hills and deserts of the east and south. In al-Muqaddasi’s time, in the late tenth century, water was plentiful in Jerusalem, but it was entirely because of the city’s conservation measures, which included the provision of three great tanks, twenty underground cisterns in the Haram area (Templar Mount, TN) and two pools in the Muristan (a complex of streets and shops in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The site was the location of the first Bimaristan -from Persian Bimārestān بیمارستان meaning "hospital"- of the Knights Hospitaller, TN, source Wikipedia). 

The natural condition of the region was one of aridity. It was ‘entirely lacking in water,’ says William of Tyre, with no springs or rivers, and therefore depended upon the winter rains to replenish the cisterns. Even so, there are still microclimates: Tiberias and the borders of the lake experience very mild winters of around 14ºC. Indeed, al-Muqaddasi places this area within his third belt, characterised by palms, cultivated fields and indigo plantations."

This blog quotes sections, slightly edited, from The Crusader States by Malcom Barber, (2012, p 59-60), Yale University Press, Fair Use intended. The illustration shows desert conditions, source. Fair Use intended.

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